First, let me set it up. Every month, ExitEvent puts over 100 smart entrepreneurs in a room with some investors, without any agenda, nametags, or instructions of any kind. We give them beer, music, and some food, and then they inevitably solve a lot of their own problems. It’s called the Startup Social.
At the January Startup Social, I put a suggestion box near the beer and asked (and I goaded almost everyone into answering):
If ExitEvent.com wants to be the first place entrepreneurs log into every morning, what does it need to offer?
Context: ExitEvent is a network that includes hundreds of entrepreneurs and a healthy amount of investors, support organizations, small businesses, service providers, job seekers, and press. So this was also an ask for what they needed from their startup community.
I summarized their suggestions into four “things,” and things two through four are here.
Thing number one was not money. This is awesome, because it means we’re past the “living the dream” part of the discussion and into the “getting some customers” part.
Two days ago, I had a nice, long conversation with someone who has both experience and position within the local startup community. We talked about the noise.
As the top of the funnel expands in any startup community, there’s a lot to talk about, even brag about. Don’t misunderstand me, I remember the days when there was nothing to talk about and no one to talk to.
But at some point that talk has to benefit the entrepreneurs. Otherwise, it’s just talk.
I told this person what the entrepreneurs told me was the number one thing they wanted from the startup community. He agreed.
1. Aggregated Information
This also happens to be my favorite because it’s what ExitEvent is in the best position to do. The vast number of suggestions spoke to collecting data, categorizing it, and spitting back helpful insights about the startups and the community around them.
But stats are stats — and a dashboard about a startup community is like a Hot or Not for nerds. Or like Klout. Numbers are awesome — when they tell you something.
So the most robust and useful way to do this is with the content we provide every day. It’s a scientific, deep dive of information that, when aggregated over time, allows entrepreneurs to understand what other entrepreneurs are doing – what’s working, what’s not, what’s trending, which programs are useful, who might be worth talking to, etc.
This information has to be vetted with an entrepreneurial bent. Otherwise, you could get your fix from the local newspaper or a LinkedIn group.
How’s that working out?
But I know it’s not exactly easy to read every article we publish. You should do it. I just know it isn’t easy. There’s no silver bullet to replace actually getting involved.
However, we can distill this information into more bite-sized, more personalized, and more targeted chunks (“chunks” is the actual scientific term for parsing data, by the way).
Post Your Own Content and Message Boards
The first way to do this is to change the source. We’re trying this with “post your own content” and with message boards.
Having the entrepreneurs post their own content solves one of the problems, the collection of the information. It also helps it scale, which is thing number 4 from the last article. However, it alleviates my concerns with number 4 — that we’d have to hire 1000 writers or severely muddle the message and turn into a paper.li.
I thought message boards had died out in the 1990s, but apparently, we miss them. In an odd kind of Catch 22, ExitEvent had message boards in the first incarnation of the website. They rarely got used. I took them down and everyone said they missed them. I put them up again and they’re still not getting used.
But I do see the value of them, and they can help greatly with things 2 and 3. I’ll make a some organized noise about them in February and we’ll see where it goes.
In the meantime, if you’re a verified entrepreneur, log in with the MY HUB link above, and you’ll see the message boards and where you can post your own content.
The other suggestions that fed into information aggregation came in the form of network updates.
I’m on it.
First, we’ve broken everyone out into a locational hub — kind of like a map but with data instead of borders. We have a directory where anyone can take a look at the startups and see what we’ve written.
We’re counting number of views of the startup profiles, and in many cases, we know if the viewer was another entrepreneur, an investor, etc. Right now we’re just listing the top 5 overall and the top 5 in the each hub. Eventually, we’ll start showing you who looked at your profile and what kind of member they were.
Those profiles are also updated every time we mention a startup in an article. In fact, my goal for the profiles is to keep them constantly updated without the entrepreneurs themselves having to take time out of their busy schedules to manually update them.
Startup communities tend to highlight themselves very, very well. Like I said, it’s great to have so much chatter about the startups — but it’s time for that chatter to have some direction. All the shouting about how awesome the community is gets kind of useless if you’re not shouting the right information at someone who can act on it.
When startup communities start doing that, then everyone benefits. Again.